How to use a toaster oven

Toaster ovens offer the kind of convenience and practicality that can complete a kitchen. Learning the ins and outs of the best toaster ovens can save you time and make meals easier.

When it comes to kitchen appliances, few are as versatile and convenient as the toaster oven. These remarkable little appliances are often small and contained enough to go right on the countertop, despite being able to take some of the workloads off your oven. Most toaster ovens aren't large enough or powerful enough to entirely replace your full-sized oven. Still, you'd be surprised at how much you can do with these convenient appliances.

From baking and broiling to roasting and reheating, toaster ovens have come a long way since their original inception. But not all toaster ovens are the same, as many of them vary in power and size. Still, with a little bit of know-how and practice, you'll be cooking up delicious foods in no time. The first step, after getting a toaster oven, is to learn how to use it. Some parts may be familiar, but there are many tips and tricks to uncover if you want to get the most out of your new appliance.  

How to use a toaster oven

Before using your new kitchen appliance, it needs to be set up. This means removing any packaging material that might be on it, including zip ties or plastic covers, and plugging the appliance in where it will be safe. Remember, these are small ovens, and they can get quite hot, so it's vital to place them somewhere where it won't be a fire hazard. A clean, dry section of the countertop can work well.

Once the toaster oven is safely arranged and plugged in, it's time to consider what you want to cook with it. While many types of food can be cooked in these appliances, it's sometimes best to review the different styles they can use. Specifically, many toaster ovens can be used for broiling, baking, defrosting, roasting, reheating, and more. It's easy to see why these can make great kitchen gifts.


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Broiling

Adding that final blast of searing heat is even easier with a toaster oven. Thanks to the appliance's compact size, getting your food close to the heating element is more accessible and less energy-intensive than a traditional oven. Depending on the model, you may have multiple rack heights to choose from. With broiling, you want the food as close to the heating element as it can get without touching it, and this can mean placing the rack on a higher shelf.

Many types of food can be broiled in a toaster oven. Still, some of the more recommended options are foods like seafood and small vegetables. A fish filet with a light side of vegetables is an excellent example. Because broiling heats the surface of your food at a higher rate than the interior, it won't work with anything too thick (by the time the interior is cooked, the outside will be burnt).

Once you've chosen your meal, arrange the food on the baking pan and place it on the rack. From here, cook times will depend on your food and the toaster oven itself. Different brands and models vary in their strength, design, and size, leading to different cook times. Consult the manual for your toaster oven to see recommended cook times.

Baking

One thing that these appliances can excel at is baking. Especially with smaller dishes that don't need the full size of a traditional oven. Small batches of cookies, a chicken breast or two, or even casseroles and lasagnas. Any of these dishes might be baked in the appropriately sized toaster oven.

Baking takes longer than broiling, even in these compact appliances. However, baking a small meal can be much faster than using a traditional oven with the right toaster oven. A significant part of this is the relative size. Toaster ovens have a lot less space that they need to heat. The trade-off is in how much food you can cook at once.

Baking in these is often as easy as setting the mode to 'bake' and choosing the desired temperature. Next, place the food you want to bake in an appropriate container and put that in the toaster oven. Whether making cookies on a baking sheet or lasagna in a casserole dish, baking with the toaster oven is like a full-sized oven in principle. Beyond safety, the essential parts are to have the right time and temperature.


See also: Best toasters 2021: Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Breville, and more compared


Roasting

Roasting usually uses the same cooking mode as baking, with the main difference being that roasting uses higher temperatures. If your toaster oven has enough space in it, you can roast many different meals and foods in it. A good toaster oven can roast many tasty things, from a small roast beef to fish filets, bacon, and vegetables.

To roast food, use the bake setting on your toaster oven. If yours has a 'roast' mode, select that instead. If you're unsure, you can consult the manual for that brand and model. After choosing the suitable mode, set the temperature and timer. It's best to consult a cooking recipe to determine what to set these variables to.

One of the big perks of these small appliances is that they can be used in tandem with a full-sized oven. For instance, if you're roasting smaller casseroles or side dishes while your main oven holds a turkey or similarly large dish. Toaster ovens can help ease the pressure around holiday cooking and make the kitchen a smoother experience.

Defrosting

One of the less glamorous but consistently useful functions of a toaster oven is that many can be used to defrost frozen foods. Depending on the model, it may have a prebuilt mode for defrosting, or you may need to set the temperature and time manually. This can save time and hassle if you want to defrost things quickly without using a microwave. While not as fast as a microwave, defrosting with a toaster oven is still a quick method.

To defrost, place the frozen food in a safe container within the appliance. This may be a baking pan or some oven-safe glass like a casserole dish. Once your food is safely in the oven, select the 'defrost' option on your toaster oven. Depending on the make and model, it might be necessary to consult your manual to find the defrost settings.

How to use a toaster oven FAQ

Can I replace my full-sized oven with a toaster oven?

Probably not. Full-sized ovens can handle things far beyond what your average toaster oven can. Trying to cook a full Thanksgiving meal in only a toaster oven could be a monumental undertaking. 

That said, there are situations where people might be able to do without a traditional oven and only use a toaster oven. If the meals are only for one or two people, prioritizing a toaster oven becomes more feasible.

What is the best toaster oven?

There are many toaster ovens on the market, with much impressive innovation and quality spread throughout them. The best toaster oven for you will be the one that meets your needs and your budget without causing more problems than it solves. 

The best way to approach this is to consider what you want the appliance for, where it can go, and how much you're comfortable spending on it.

What can't you put in a toaster oven?

The first thing to be careful about is the containers. Oven-safe glass can be used, but only if there's enough room for it to be placed properly without touching the heating elements. Beyond avoiding contact with the elements, most oven-safe containers can also be used in toaster ovens. Keep in mind that anything flammable, like parchment paper, is extra dangerous within a toaster oven. 

The reason is that the heating coils are much closer and more likely to touch and potentially ignite or damage the object.